How often do we use the term “disciple” in our work as catechetical leaders?
In what ways are our catechetical efforts intentionally focused on forming disciples?
How is the mission to make disciples central to our planning, decision making, and goal setting?
By virtue of their Baptisms, all Christians are called to participate in the mission of evangelization, to make disciples. However, in planning catechesis, other terms are often more prominent in our discussions: parishioners, parents, catechists, and volunteers. Are we looking at the wrong things when we are planning activities? We may be tempted to think there is no difference between disciples and parishioners. This may lead us to believe that everything we do makes disciples. In turn, our planning may focus on expanding activities of any kind, and we may become focused on numbers of programs and participants. If the most important term is “parishioners,” then the most important objective is to have people register and to get people engaged.
In reality, not every parishioner is consciously committed to being a disciple. Not every person volunteers out of the desire to be transformed through a life in Christ. Each person who engages with the Church in any capacity has a unique journey of faith. As such, a person’s reasons for engagement may or may not be intentionally related to growing as a disciple. Some people seek Baptism purely out of tradition. Some people volunteer in fellowship ministries just for the community. There is no automatic mechanism by which a person who is initiated or engaged in the community is also evangelized.
The mission of the Church is to make disciples. Since Pope Paul VI’s Evangelization in the Modern World (Evangelii Nuntinandi), all popes have written extensively about evangelization and discipleship. Pope Francis constantly uses the term “missionary disciples,” which he explains in The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium). Since Evangelii Gaudium, the term “missionary disciples” has also begun to permeate the writings of national bishops’ conferences, publishers, and practitioners. The Directory for Catechesis intimately connects evangelization with catechesis, noting, “[The first proclamation] implies going out, making haste, accompanying, thus becoming true missionary disciples. It therefore cannot be reduced to the conveying of a message, but is first of all sharing the life that comes from God and communicating the joy of having met the Lord.”
The key point about the term missionary disciples is that all are called to evangelize immediately after becoming disciples. Pope Francis emphasizes that the intention of training and learning more about the faith must not keep us from sharing the faith right away. Effectively, we are to break through all the obstacles in our heads that excuse us from sharing the faith, that make us wait or step back instead of evangelize. To the contrary, similar to the biblical disciples, such as the woman at the well, we are to go out right away and share the love we encountered.
The Message That Must Be Heard Again and Again
The first step on the journey of discipleship is hearing the message of Christ (the kerygma) and responding to it. Christ invites us to follow him (Mt 4:19) and invites us to conversion (Mt 4:17). The kerygma is the first proclamation of Christ, defined by Pope Francis as this message: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.”
Pope Francis emphasizes that the kerygma is not just an entry point or first proclamation, but it is the principal message that must permeate all catechesis. It is “the one which we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment.” The Directory for Catechesis explains:
Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone. Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point out a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet. It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but “by attraction.” This spontaneous missionary impulse must be supported by a genuine pastoral ministry of first proclamation, capable of undertaking initiatives for presenting the good news of faith in an explicit manner, concretely manifesting the power of mercy, the very heart of the Gospel, and fostering the incorporation of those who convert into the ecclesial community.
These initiatives might include retreats, service and outreach projects, community-building opportunities, or simple, one-on-one interactions where people have the opportunity to encounter the welcome, mercy, and love of Christ.
Accompanying People on the Path to Commitment
There is a radical aspect of discipleship that cannot be overlooked. Discipleship asks for conversion—in Greek, metanoia—which means a transformation of mind, heart, and way of living. For example, one of the most difficult changes in way of living for disciples is to follow the call to give a portion of their income to the Church and the poor—not just a token, but a significant part. Many who do commit to doing this experience more gratitude and, surprisingly, the money they still have seems to be more sufficient than before, because it transforms how they spend money overall. Discipleship has a cost, not just monetary, and it is a substantial commitment that people will not make lightly. That is why in most cases, the path to discipleship is gradual, starting for different people in different places. It requires different opportunities to experience faith, to grow, to share, and to be accompanied by others in the faith. The Directory for Catechesis notes: “The relationship of adults with the question of faith is highly varied, and it is right that every person should be welcomed and listened to in his uniqueness. . . . It is possible to consider a few types of adults who live out the faith with different approaches.” Next, the Directory lays out four particular tasks of catechesis with adults:
- Elicit faith: foster new beginnings of faith-filled experiences
- Purify faith: seek more authentic faith and fullness of life in the Gospel
- Nourish faith: promote formation and dialogue, meaningful church relationships
- Assist the sharing and witness of faith: prepare spaces of sharing and service
The terms disciples, missionary disciples, and kerygma all point toward the power of the language and terminology that we use. If the message of Jesus Christ, the kerygma, permeates everything we do as catechetical leaders, and if it is not just a part of what we talk about, then we can challenge people anew to make progress on their journeys toward commitment to Christ. If we start to share the faith right away as missionary disciples and model that to all who come to our communities, then we will not be divided into teachers and students but will all be missionary disciples.
Communities That Make Disciples
Looking at the particular tasks of catechesis with adults from the Directory for Catechesis, sort all community ministries, programs, and activities into a table like the one shown below. Which ones help to create new beginnings and faith experiences? Which ones help to seek a fuller life in the Gospel? Which ones promote deeper formation and relationships? Which ones create spaces to share and witness the faith?
|Elicit Faith||Purify Faith||Nourish Faith||Assist the Sharing and Witness of Faith|
Review the chart. Where are the blank spots? What is missing? In what ways are people invited and nourished to go from one to the next? How much patience is there to invest in people on each level, even if many do not move forward? (See also the parable of the Sower, Mark 4:1-20.)
 DC 110.
 EG 119-121; the term “missionary disciples” was introduced in the Aparecida document by CELAM, with then Cardinal Bergoglio—who later became Pope Francis—as editor, in 2007.
 DC 68.
 EG 120-121.
 EG 164.
 EG 164.
 DC 41.
 DC 258.
 DC 261.